Lava River Cave

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Useful Information

Location: Deschutes National Forest, Newberry National Volcanic Monument. On Hwy 97, 20 km south of Bend, 2 km south of Lava Lands Visitor Center.
Open: JUL to 14-OCT daily 9-17.
15-OCT to JUN closed for bat protection.
Fee: Lantern Rentals USD 4 each.
Classification: Speleologylava tube
Light: gasoline lanterns rented by a park ranger.
Dimension: L=1,646 m, W=15 m, H=60 m, T=5 °C, A=1,371 m asl..
Guided tours: self guided, L=4,184m
Address: U.S. Forest Service, Deschutes National Forest, 1001 SW Emkay Drive, Bend, OR 97702, Tel: +1-541-383-4785.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1889 found on a hunting trip by the white trapper Leander Dillman. In the following years he used the cave to cool his venison.
1926 area donated to the State of Oregon for a park by the Shevlin-Hixon Lumber Company.
1981 Lava Rivers Cave site acquired by the Forest Service through an exchange of land with the State of Oregon.
NOV-1990 Newberry National Volcanic Monument created.


Lava River Cave is a typical lava tube, a tall tube of nearly constant diameter. The floor shows interesting flow features. The lavacicles on the walls were formed, when the lava was still molten. The cave crosses beneath U.S. Hwy. 97, where the roof of the cave is 15 m thick. This is typical for lava tubes, as the roof is formed by the cooled surface of the lava flow, it always has about this size.

The place where the lava came from, the vent, is about 550 m uphill from the cave entrance. It looks like a low, rocky pile now largely buried by soil. The liquid lava flowed downhill for some time, the surface slowly cooling, thus forming the cave. When the production of lava stopped, the last lava flew out of the tube and the cave existed. Later the roof collapsed at one point, and so the cave was cut into two branches, the upper and the lower branch. Only the lower branch is open to the public.

The cave is entered down the collapse and through a rather unapparent hole. The visitor enters a large cool chamber where stalactites and stalagmites of ice, formed during winter whwn the cold air flew down into the cave, persist until the warmer days of June. The first white discoverer, the trapper Leander Dillman, used this place as a natural refrigerator and stored his venison here.

Now the main passage follows, with a post marking the overhead passage of Highway 97. Rather huge, this tunnel is easy to walk and shows remains of the lava flow all over. Often the walls are covered with a shiny and glazed form of lava resembling slumped gray toffee. It was formed by remelting, when most of the molten lava had drained out and hot gases were trapped in the interior of the tube. Other common speleothems are volcanic stalactites called lavacicles. Similar to limestone stalactites there are two forms, hollow cylindrically shaped soda straws, and the cone shaped drip pendants. The soda straws were formed by escaping gases, the conic lavacicles by remelted lava dripping from ceilings and walls. So despite the similar form, the processes which formed them are different from their limestone siblings.

A special thing with this cave are the self guided tours. The cave is not a show cave, there are no developed paths and no light. There are 126 steps into the cave and inside a sort of rough trail with some uneven floor. But there are no restrictions by the National Forest, and the cave was even visited by 90 years old.

Stop at the U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center, which is located at the turn-off from U.S. Route 97 to Lava River Cave. The Visitor Center has been completely renovated in 2008 and was reopened in April 2009. Here you will get information about the cave and may rent a lantern. Additional light, warm clothes and good shoes are also a good idea. However, there are restrictions on the type of own lamps you are allowed to take in. Open fire like torches or candles are not allowed, electric lamps, especially LED lamps are a good idea.

In and around Lava River Cave SP, several other caves, like Boyd Skeleton Cave, Arnold Lavatube System, Surveyors Cave, Wind Cave, Charcoal Cave, South Ice Cave, and Lavacicle Cave, can be visited. A detailed map is necessary. Ask at the Visitor Center about visitation guidelines and check the road conditions. The rough winter weather restricts visits to the summer months.

Unfortunately the cave has increasingly become the target of vandals. Using spray cans they leave their names, dates, and drawings like marijuana leaves or mushrooms. The cave is now cleaned several times each summer by forest employees using wire brushes and chemical cleaners.